They were seated at a corner table, three former colleagues, each with varied experiences of Catholic education, each from a different state, each at a different stage of life. The conversation was not the often heard lament about the institutional church, though. Instead, it was about faith for children and grandchildren, how faith embraces doubt and requires reflection, how faith impacts individual lives. Such a conversation slips past the superficial realities and looks deeply at meaning and purpose, potential and promise for the future. It floated among them, diverging and converging at points. Most importantly, every pebble of conversation managed to frame fears while empowering possibilities.
In their lifetimes and careers, there has been a radical shift in social norms and institutions, an outright rejection of any authoritarian structures. Navigating the conversation, they recognized the importance of personal faith, the benefits of community and the critical nature of leadership. Where identity was once linked closely to faith and personal belief, it has broadened in phases unimaginable at the start of each of those decades-long careers. They wondered if faith had succumbed to the numbness of science, the wrestle of social media and the rising tide of stigma. They wondered if the embrace of the labels of mental illness and anxieties and the pharmaceutical treatment of these had been a factor. They weighed what it means to be different in a world that simultaneously promotes individuality and conformity.
For a few moments, they sat with the irony of the Surgeon General’s report on the epidemic of loneliness and the importance of belonging to communities like churches. Then they pushed into the reality of new communities that spring up online, in gaming, in gyms and in schools. Are these the communities of connection, of faith and purpose of the future? And they wondered at the loss of priests, the dissolution of religious communities of women and men. And they witnessed to the seeds of the new church, the young men daring to commit their lives and purpose to the Catholic community, energetically striving to reach out to jaded community members; organizations like Dynamic Catholic stretching into the lives of ordinary Catholics, and the way lay women and men are seeking, somehow, to serve. In each case, faith–that deep, abiding conviction that there is something far greater than self to consider—becomes the significant factor.
It is, they concluded, faith that truly matters, that sense of being loved by a generous God who both created humanity and accepts, embraces, the heart and the whole of each person. Faith does not exclude but embraces the peculiarities of humanity, our own and everyone else’s as well. Faith is what John’s Gospel calls for, seeing and believing and living. Faith is what the readings call for: Peter, becoming the cornerstone. The truth is that’ each of us is part of the greater whole, a stone connected to the cornerstone with purpose and meaning. Faith enables that step towards the greater whole, the acknowledgment of need for one another within the confidence that each of us is part of the Mystery. Each of us brings the Presence of God to the next. Each of us is so much more than we can imagine; each of us is a stone, a slender piece of that greater whole.
In this time of transition, they concluded, more could be happening than meets the eye. Having faith in the past and knowing the gift of the present, they parted with the agreement to revisit in the future, just a stone’s throw away.